Bananas Foster

As always I like to keep fresh fruits on hand. At almost any given time you will find whatever fruit in season, and within reason; placed in a bowl on my dining room table. Two weeks ago it laid quite abundant with bananas. Coincidentally we were planned on taking a trip back to the east coast to visit with family, but what to do with these bananas? I hate to leave them here and come home to find out they spoiled.

Normally when I have a few bananas that are ripe and I am not ready to use it is easy to peel them and seal them in plastic and place in the freezer for a future baking need. But these bananas were no way near ripe yet. That is when I though about Bananas Foster. Bananas that are sliced, sweetly sauted, flambed, and spooned warm over ice-cream. This is the perfect dish for bananas that are still firm. This is because if you were to use bananas that were quite ripe they turn too mushy as they cook.

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I learned to make this dish when I was in culinary school. Our last class was to work (both front and back of the house) of the fine dinning restaurant on campus where Bananas Foster was on the menu. When working the front of house and this dessert was ordered you had to wheel a cart over to the table (this cart was stocked with bananas, brown sugar, butter, rum, and a small portable butane burner); and prepare the dessert in front of the guests. The reason for doing this table side was for the show and spectacle of it. Sounds simple, yes? But hold on there just a moment. Let me use this moment to state that I completely disliked doing this and was terrified each time it was ordered. Each and every time an order would come through I could feel the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, while a small sweat would start to form under my pressed white button up dress shirt.

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My flambe, and my fear subsided!

I personally felt as though we did not get enough time to practice the recipe ourselves before making it. When making this dish as you start to flambe the pan with the rum -if done right- a flame will shoot up out of the pan burning off the alcohol in it. In my opinion, and that of some of my classmates; the ceilings were not very high in the dinning room. I had this gut wrenching panicked feeling that the ceiling would end up with a smoke stain or worse. Not exactly the type of experience you want when dinning at a fine restaurant. Rest assure that as we finished out the course there were no flambe casualties. The ceiling remain smoked stained free, no unintentional fires started, and I became much more confident in making this dish.

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That is until I made it at home the other day. It had been quite a while since I flambed  anything, and some of those unconfident feeling snuck back into my psyche. I asked my husband to stand by in case I needed help to put a fire out, and also to take pictures of it all. I need the evidence of it not only to show you here, but for my own acknowledgement of future flambe attempts. The ending result was triumphant. There was no fire, although the flame did get larger than I had remembered. The bananas were sweet and kept their shape. The lightly spiced brown sugar and butter used to create the sauce paired perfectly with the vanilla ice-cream. We enjoyed some Bananas Foster, and when finish I packed some things for our trip to New Jersey. I will admit, my confidence was back in place and I hoped our future trip would be as exciting as making this dish.

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Bananas Foster, ho so yummy to enjoy!

Bananas Foster (serves 2 – 4)

*Note: if you are concerned about the flame from the rum you can always add less rum, but that will compromise your the amount of sauce you create with the bananas. You can also try not to ignite the pan, but were is the fun in that?!?

2 firm bananas, peeled and sliced into 1/2 inch slices

2 tbsp of butter

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground cardamom

1/4 cup dark rum

1 tsp vanilla extract

Vanilla ice-cream of choice

Matches, in case you are not using a gas stovetop

First, have I like to have the ice-cream scooped into the bowls and placed in the freezer until ready to pour the sauce over. It is best to keep the ice-cream cold, or the warm sauce and bananas will end up in a creamy puddle!

Next; in a bowl mix together your brown sugar, cinnamon, and cardamon – place it aside. Aslo place your vanilla in the same container you have you rum and set it aside as well. Place a large saute or frying pan over medium heat and once heated though add your butter and melt it.

Then, when butter is melted add your bananas. stir them to coat them in the butter. Once coated sprinkle you brown sugar over the top of it all. Keep stirring until the sugar is quite melted and bubbling. Carefully lift the pan away from the heat and pour in the rum and vanilla.

Finally, if using a gas stove raise your burner to high heat and carefully return the pan to the burner while gently tilting the pans lip toward the flame. The rum should ignite quickly. If using an electric burner raise the heat to high and place your pan gently over it. Carefully light your match and place it’s flame toward the pan to ignite the rum. After igniting the rum in either way the flambe will be high and your pan will sizzle away. The rum’s flame will subside once the alcohol is cooked off. When that happens you can remove the pan from the heat and quickly spoon the bananas and sauce over your chilled ice-cream. Serve it promptly and enjoy!

Calas

I noticed the other day that in some ways I have been feeling like I am in a bit of a rut lately. It is hard to explain. The days are short, and yet we are both super busy with our work, day to day life; yet everything has a level of lackadaisical to it. It is as though there have been a case of the “blahs” casted over me. I know some would attribute this to January or winter, and I was beginning to believe that might be true.

That was until I was reading through at an Indian cookbook I received as a gift. There it was right in front of me. I was planning to go to India for the past six months and postponed those plans after our most recent voyage out of the states. Let me just say that it left us stressed, and exhausted. To some that may seem like all the more reason to go away again. Unfortunately, we knew we were just not mentally ready for a long voyage of that nature.

Cala batter resting and letting the years work it's magic.

Cala batter resting and letting the yeast work it’s magic.

Then I realized that last year this time we were in New Orleans.  It was the first time I visited that beautiful city, and we enjoyed every bit of it. At that moment I put down the Indian cook book and started looking into all the foods we enjoyed while we were in New Orleans. There was the ever famous Beignets, Cheesy Grits, Praline Bacon, Stewed Okra, and a personal favorite: Calas! I’m sure you are wondering what this is. Calas are somewhat of a rice fritter. The history of the Cala dates back to plantation times, they were made by slaves and sold on the city streets on their day off. The money they earned from selling these was put towards buying themselves their freedom. As time passed the Calas were still made, but usually for more celebratory times. Today you can often find them on menus at restaurants from time to time.

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In researching recipes about the Calas I found lots of differences. Some were like fried rice patty cakes, some were leavened with baking powder, and a few recipes used yeast. In making my own I opted for a yeast version. I imagined they would be light and airy in texture, and the result was just that. Light, airy, fluffy, with the tiniest bit of chew from the rice. I made the batter for the Calas early in the day and let the yeast work it’s magic. When we were through with dinner that night I heated up some oil and fried them off. While still very hot and warm I dusted them with powdered sugar. Biting into them I was super pleased. They were everything I thought they would be like. They were much fluffier than the ones I had when I was in New Orleans, and had the tiniest bit of subtle sweetness. They were a great ending to our meal, and a perfect pick me up from the blah mood I have been in. A trip to India may have been pushed back a bit, but Calas are a great pick me up in the meantime.

Fluffy Calas, get ready to indulge.

Fluffy Calas, get ready to indulge.

Calas (serves 6 or more depending on size)

**Note: I am sure any type of rice is possible to use for this recipe. By tradition they use a medium grained rice…Although, something like a short grain, sticky rice might not be appropriate. You want the rice suspended in the batter and not clumped up. I did find in my research that a parboiled or instant rice is strongly not suggested.  

2 1/4 tsp of active dry yeast

1/2 cup of warm water

2 cups of cooked and cooled rice (I used Basmati)

3 large eggs

1 tsp of vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups of flour (plus more if needed)

1/2 cup of light brown sugar

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp nutmeg

Peanut oil (at least a pint)

Powdered sugar

First, place the yeast in a large mixing bowl. Cover the yeast with the warm water and let it dissolve and start to foam.

Next, add the rice, eggs, and vanilla to the yeast and stir it well. Over the top of this add your flour, brown sugar, and sea salt. Stir it together well. It will seem gloopy and spongy, that is normal. You are looking that you can scoop the batter up with a spoon and scrape it off with another spoon smoothly.

Then, cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let it rest at room temperature (and away from any draft) for about 4 hours, or double in size. At this point check again that the batter is scoopable with two spoons. If you feel that the dough is too wet you can stir in a bit more flour…Try to do this no more that 2 tbsp at a time.

Finally, add the oil to a 4 quart pan and heat it to 350 degrees. (You can use a deep fryer if you have one.) When the oil is ready, drop the batter by the spoonful and fry until they are golden and flip them over until they are equally golden on the other side. (Be sure to keep an eye on your oil temperature as you do not want it to get too hot or it will burn your calas.) Remove from the oil and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain. Dust the calas with powdered sugar and serve while hot, and enjoy!

***Note: I fried off half the batter and placed the remainder batter in a sealed plastic container at least double the size of the batter. I stored the batter in the refrigerator and fried it off two days later. It did expand a bit more as it rested in the refrigerator, and it fried off just as well as it did before. Although I would not let the batter sit much longer than that, because the batter has a tendency to begin to have a sour dough taste to it.

Harissa Roasted Carrots & Onions, with Lemony Yogurt and Pomegranates

The holidays were here — I feel as though, they came and I conquered! Gifts all arrived to their destination on time! When all your family is on the east cost and we live on the west cost, this is a big deal. I will admit, I made Brian do the wrapping, shipping, and card addressing this year. I needed a break as I have been responsible for all of this the past 17 years give or take. But besides that there were cookies made & decorated, pies baked, holiday parties attended, cocktails consumed, entertaining executed, and a christmas dinner devoured with leftovers to spare. We also worked our jobs and snuck in a few naps; but the holidays were here and they were crushed in a triumph.

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Time for the new year to roll in. Time to sit back and enjoy what is left of the 2015. Time to nibble and savor. Time to reminisce at all that went right! Wrong? Made us laugh! And even want to dismiss from the mind. Recently we were reminiscing of a dessert we tried on one of our travels. The texture was weird, it was somewhat rubbery, and not very sweet. The look on Brian’s face when he tried it was priceless as he politely chewed on it. Did it make us laugh? Yes, but the taste and experience left a lot to be desired. We can forget that one.

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I do remember harissa roasted carrots and onions – this is one recipe worthy of reminiscing. The carrots and onions were coated in olive oil, dusted with harissa, roasted until tender, served over a layer of lemony thick greek yogurt, and sprinkled on top with pomegranate seeds. Paring this with some warm pita and bright green leafy salad is perfection. Time to make this to bring in the new year…it is slightly spicy, smoky, earthy, and deeply robust. Depending on the spice variety you use, the flavor can vary. Although the one that I use is a nice balance of chilies, paprikas, fennel seeds, along with a variety of other spices. The spices pair nicely with the lemony yogurt, it mellows out the spice while leaving just the right amount that is needed. The pomegranets are bright and burst with flavor amongst the sweet roasted veggies. Over all, this simple dish is one of the more perfect things I ate this year. A dish to remember, a dish…holiday worthy!

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Harissa Roasted Carrots & Onions, with Lemony Yogurt and Pomegranates (serves 4 – 6 as a side dish)

**Notes: If you are looking for a Harissa Spice, you can always order it. I personally like this blend and the company here: https://www.worldspice.com/blends/harissa

6 – 8 large carrots; peeled, trimmed and cut into 3 inch pieces

1 onion; trimmed and cut into 1 inch strips

1/4 – 1/3 cup olive oil

1 tbsp harissa spice

sea salt to taste

3/4 cup Greek yogurt

1 tbsp + 1 tsp lemon juice

1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the carrots into thick sticks, about 1/4 – 1/6 of their whole. Place the carrot sticks and onion pieces in a bowl. Mix the olive oil and harissa together and toss it with your carrots and onions until coated.

Next, on a lined baking sheet place your dressed carrots and onions. Sprinkle it to taste with sea salt, and place it in your prepared oven for about 40 minutes (or until they start to caramelize). You will rotate the pan and stir the veggies half way though roasting.

Then, in a bowl mix together your Greek yogurt and lemon juice. Sprinkle it with a couple pinches of sea salt and layer it on the bottom of your serving platter. Chill until ready to serve.

Finally, when the carrots and onions are roasted place them over the lemon yogurt mixture and sprinkle the pomegranate seeds. Serve while still warm. Scoop onto plates; being sure you get the harissa roasted veggies, pomegranates, and a bit of the yogurt. Eat and enjoy.

 

Red Wine Braised Beef Stew

The weather outside is frightful…maybe? I mean everyday since December hit we have been faced with wind, strong wind! Rain, lots of rain, drizzling, and more rain. The temps have been chilly, and each morning when I wake I find myself trying to hold on to my warm and cozy pillow a bit longer. Then I drag myself out of bed, throw myself together, and head out into the unexpected nastiness. In no way am I feeling delightful.

Veggies searing for your stew.

As I walk to work at 5 A.M. it is not uncommon to find my ears numbing from the wind and my nose buried in my scarf by the time I reach the kitchen door. On mornings like this I set up my station and get the pastries underway. It is not uncommon to find warmth next to the ovens and defrost with some INXS or Depeche Mode playing. But when my day in the kitchen is through and I head home, it is time to face the rippling wind and rain again. While it is tolerated, I do admit that I miss those warm days of sunshine we had just a few weeks ago. And if you were to ask me this rain and wind is not really “holiday” feeling. Not quite feeling that festive mood I think I should be in right about now.

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So once I’m home it is time to get something cozy and warming on the stove. I’ve been playing around with long and low temperature roasting, along with braising. Both of these make the apartment feel so warm, cozy, and puts a little pizzaz in the dreary days we have faced so far. But the Braising is what I need to tell you about here…Braising!!! The kind that slowly simmers, reduces, and intensifies flavors. The other night for Brian I braised a beef stew in red wine that he described as intensely unami and luscious. It was deep in flavor as the red wine reduced and  glazed over the meat and veggies it cooked with. It had herbs and straight forward beefiness that pleases ones soul and makes you feel merry. Possibly we are getting into the holiday vibe, you never know. But what I do know is more braising dishes in the future. Let it snow if it wishes…I’ll stay inside braising away and staying cozy.

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Red Wine Beef Stew (serve 6)

**Note: I like to serve this with a creamy polenta. However, potatoes, rice, or crusty bread works well with this dish too.

2 lbs beef stew meat; cubed

5-6 cipollini onions; trimmed, peeled, and halved

3 large carrots; peeled, trimmed, and cut into 2 inch pieces

4 stalks of celery; trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces

3 tbsp butter

2 tbsp olive oil

2 bay leaves

several stems of fresh parsley

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

1 bottle of dry red wine

sea salt and black pepper to taste

First, place a dutch oven or large roasting pan fitted with a lid over medium heat. Place your butter and olive oil in the pan. Once the butter is melted add in your veggies and let them sear about 5 minutes. Meantime, tie up your thyme, parsley, and bay leaves together with kitchen twine.

Next, once the veggies are seared and have gotten some caramelization add in the beef. Stir it all together to coat it all and season it with a bit of sea salt and black pepper. Be sure the beef sears on all side. It will take about 8 minutes.

Then, once the beef is seared you can pour the wine over all of it. Along with 2 – 3 cups of water.  On top of this you can place your herb bundle and cover it all. Reduce the heat to low, letting it braise away about an hour. Stirring it every once in a while.

Finally, when the wine is reduced and you meat is cooked though remove the pan from the heat. Remove the herb bundle and season it all with sea salt and black pepper to taste. Serve while still warm.

Stuffed Japanese Sweet Potatoes

The holiday season is here. As always we are now in what I like to consider the mad dash to the end of the year! The fun filled, non stop weeks of festivities. Festivities with friends catching up, families celebrating, joy being spread, parties to attend, presents to be purchased, presents to be wrapped, traditions to be served, and food – so much food.

In between the craziness of it all, I find I need a simple meal. I do not know about you, but after the Thanksgiving feast we had and what lies ahead I really want to eat something that keeps me going. Something nursing and satisfying to balance out the intensity of it all. Something without the richness and heaviness, but tasty. It must be tasty!

Japanese Sweet Potatoes.

Japanese Sweet Potatoes.

When I am in search of an item like this I tend to experiment a bit. I look to other cultures and flavor profiles. By combining and crossing borders with my food the result is usually something gratifying in taste, along with texture.  I was thinking of these things when I was in the market the other day and caught a glimpse of Japanese sweet potatoes (I love theses little treasures). You see they are more of a golden, mellow yellow fleshed potato. The interior tends to be flavorful, lightly sweet, fluffy, and not as moist as a traditional American sweet potato or yam. My though was to bake them and stuff them with some asian influences.

Once I baked the potatoes, I made a compound butter with white miso. If you are not familiar with miso you should defiantly start to get acquainted. It possesses a deep umami flavor profile and lends a bunch of flavor in small amounts. I combined this with some stir fried chopped kale; seasoning it with coconut aminos, garlic, and chili flakes. To top it all off, I sprinkled roasted and chopped cashews over it. All together this stuffed potato was perfection. The flavors mingled on my tongue and satisfied my belly. I enjoyed the leftovers; and to be honest I might make it again this week as I marathon this holiday mad dash.

Stuffed Japanese Sweet Potato, miso butter, and spicy kale --Yummy!

Stuffed Japanese Sweet Potato, miso butter, and spicy kale –Yummy!

Stuffed Japanese Sweet Potatoes (serves 4)

4 Japanese sweet potatoes, no bigger than your fist

1 bunch of kale, washed well and finely sliced

2 oz of unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 tbsp white miso paste

2 – 3 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

2 cloves of garlic, chopped small

3-4 tbsp coconut aminos (or soy sauce)

1/2 – 3/4 cup of cashews, toasted and chopped

First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Wash your sweet potatoes and pierce them with a knife in a few spots. When oven is at temperature place the potatoes on a lined baking sheet. Put them in the center of the oven for 45 minutes to an hour. I like to rotate them and check them at around 30 minutes, to gauge how much longer they will need to cook.

Next, heat a large frying pan or salute pan over medium heat. Once pan is warmed though add the olive oil. Then add the kale, stirring and tossing it constantly. Once the kale starts to soften add in the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Keep stirring to be sure it distributes and cooks with the kale (about 5 minutes) and set aside from the heat.

Meanwhile, in a bowl add your butter with the miso paste. Combine them together until is is mixed well and not streaky in appearance.

Then, check your sweet potatoes to see how done they are. When they are pierced easily with a knife you can remove them from the oven to cool a bit. Reheat the kale over medium heat, and when it starts to sizzle add the coconut amino to the pan and too it all well to be sure the kale is seasoned and heated through evenly.  Once the kale is related and seasoned you can remove it from the heat.

Finally, to plate it all cut your sweet potatoes in half length wise. Carefully cut the flesh of the sweet potatoes in a criss cross pattern without cutting the skin of the potato. Fluff the potato interior with a fork, and then spread a bit of the miso butter over each prepared half of the sweet potato. Over the top of the potatoes spoon your kale over it all, and then sprinkle it with your chopped cashews. Serve immediately.

Merlot Mashed Potatoes

When I was in culinary school I had an instructor who told us about a party he catered where the theme of the party was potatoes. Sounds strange I know, but if memory serves me right he explained that they served a variety of different potatoes and flavor profiles. Among the flavors I can recall were: potatoes with corned beef & cabbage, potatoes with three cheeses, potatoes with Bailey’s Irish Cream, and merlot mashed potatoes. After class that day my classmates and I were talking about the different potatoes and strategized the endless possibilities of how we could make them. I set myself on a mission to try the Merlot Mashed Potatoes, because to me they sounded lusciously rich and I envisioned them with the most beautiful hue. After many tries I have come to a recipe that s not only delicious, but fabulous as well.

Two pounds of yukon gold potatoes.

Two pounds of yukon gold potatoes.

This brings me to the first Thanksgiving after I graduated from Culinary School. I had not visited New Jersey or our families in quite some time, so Brian and I packed a bag and my knives and off we went. I was going to cook a Thanksgiving meal for our family…all twelve of them. I composed a menu of many snacks, appetizers, soup, and then the traditional turkey meal with many fixings. Of course on the menu were these Merlot Mashed Potatoes. Being that they were different, the morning of Thanksgiving my dad asked: “Are you sure you want to make these? We usually make regular potatoes.” My mother insisted I did not have enough potatoes (with all the courses – snacks – appetizers) and sat there after I peeled the potatoes and had them in a pot, peeling more and stating “There are twelve people coming to dinner. You need more potatoes!” There are some battles I have chosen in life not to crusade in, this was one of them. I let me mother cook more potatoes, I just had to adjust my seasoning.

Stirring in the Merlot reduction.

Stirring in the Merlot reduction.

As we all sat down to the table to eat our Thanksgiving meal, the food started making its way around the table. Once the Merlot Mashed Potatoes began their rotation I heard Oohs and Aahs. When they reached my Uncle Frank (my mother’s brother) I heard him exclaim, “What is up with these potatoes? Why are they pink?!?” I chuckled to myself, and we all began to eat. Everyone ate everything! Everyone loved everything! The one dish that everyone complimented the most…the Merlot Mashed Potatoes. Even my father-in-law (a man of very few words) said to me: “Danielle, those potatoes were so good.” That is when I knew I had a really valuable recipe on my hands. My family was super pleased and my mother knew then that more than enough potatoes were made, as we had a big bowl of the potatoes still on the table!

This year I will be making the Merlot Mashed Potatoes again, and I will be missing my family as I enjoy them. We will be enjoying our Holiday here in Seattle, my family will be in New Jersey, and my In-laws will be in Maine. Maybe they will make the Merlot Mashed Potatoes for themselves? Anything is possible. I will be thinking of all of them as I enjoy our meal. Maybe we will all be side by side at a table for a Thanksgiving in the years to come?  I hope you all have a wonderful Holiday and make many memories of your own. I have so many that make me smile and I revel in them every year.

Finished Merlot Mashed Potatoes. (I will be honest, this picture is a bit dark. it tends to look a bit lighter in huge when they are done.)

Finished Merlot Mashed Potatoes. (I will be honest, this picture is a bit dark. it tends to look a bit lighter in huge when they are done.)

Merlot Mashed Potatoes (Serves 6)

***NOTES: These potatoes can easily be made ahead of time and reheated for serving. When I do this I make the potatoes a bit creamier than I normally would as they dry out a bit in the reheating process. An extra spoonful of sour cream or heavy cream works just fine. I also store the potatoes in a shallow dish letting the reheating to take only about 15 minute in 350 degree oven when covered with foil. 

2 pounds of yukon gold potatoes

3 tbsp of butter (unsalted)

1/4 cup sour cream

1/4 – 1/3 cup of heavy cream

1 1/2 cup of Merlot wine

sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste

First, clean your potatoes well and cut them into even pieces. (Even pieces leads to even cooking time for all of them.) I usually cut my potatoes into four to six pieces depending on their size. I also leave the skins on. The skins of the yukon gold potatoes are thin, break down easily, and add flavor.

Next, place the potatoes in a pot with enough cold water over them by at least one inch. I also add about 1 tbsp of sea salt to the water. Place the pot over a medium to high heat and bring to a simmer. Let it all cook until the potatoes are pierced easily with a knife. Remove from the pot from the heat and strain the water from the potatoes.

Meanwhile, place your wine in a small pan and bring to a simmer. You are looking to reduce the wine to a 1/3 or 1/4 of a cup. I let the wine simmer about 15 – 18 minutes to get this result.

Then, proceed with the potatoes with how you like to mash them. You can use an electric beater, stand mixer, hand masher, food mill, or ricer…what ever you wish. I personally like a food mili. I place it over my bowl and work the potatoes through the finest holes until all is processed through and mashed. To the potatoes I add the butter and sour cream and stir them until it is incorporated. I then add the cream, stirring in a little at a time until you get the constancy you prefer.

Finally, add in the Merlot reduction. mixing until completely even and not streaky. Season the potatoes with sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste. Serve warm.

 

Our Martini.

In December of 2009 my sister called me to tell me our father had just fainted and was being rushed to the hospital. I was living in Phoenix at this time, and my sister, along with my parents, were in New Jersey. At the time she called I was just finishing up my baking for the day as I was working in a local coffee shop. A few phone calls later I knew that he was in the hospital, his blood pressure was dropping, and they were trying to find the source of it all. I woke early the next morning (4 AM) to get the baking done at work. While I had just put muffins in the oven my mother called to tell me the outlook of my father’s health and life was looking grim. He was very weak, had several blood transfusions through the night, and a surgery was scheduled for that afternoon.

Up to that point in my life, those were the worst phone calls I had ever experienced. I tried to stay strong, but I was thousands of miles away and felt so helpless and useless. My husband and I waited and waited by the phone until my mother called back saying that my father was stable. His health was not the greatest for a while; but a major surgery and a few months of chemo later, he was much better. We were extremely fortunate.

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My Father walking in a park on my last visit to New Jersey. (April 2015)

A few weeks ago I was preparing to travel to Costa Rica. Brian was there on a business trip, and I was to meet him after a few days. I had arrangements made for someone to watch our girls (Martini and Latte), I made sure things were situated in the kitchen at work, I packed my bag, and took a flight out to meet Brian. While we were there, in the middle of a rain forest on the Pacific Coast, we received a phone call from our pet sitter. She said Martini was not eating, not walking, and seemed to be in pain. We agreed that Martini need to see a doctor, and she took her to a vet hospital. We waited by the phone for some word about Martini. Not much different than that phone call about my father six years prior to tell you the truth. Unfortunately, the outlook for Martini was not as positive as my father’s. Vacation was no longer a “vacation”. Again, I was way too far away from someone I loved, at a point in time when they were very ill.

Martini about four months old. She was so tiny and cute.

Martini about three and a half months old. She was so tiny and cute. (March 2002)

As soon as we landed in the states we picked up our belongings and headed to the vet hospital. After sitting with Martini, talking with the doctors and staff, we made a very difficult decision to lay her down in eternal rest. Many tears were shed, our energy was drained, and after it was done we picked up our suit cases and headed home. A week went by and our home was so quiet. We tried to keep a normal routine, I owed it to Latte who was missing Martini too. But our whole world was off kilter. Night after night I could barley make dinner. One day because I forgot to go food shopping! On another day I went to our local coffee shop to get a coffee with no wallet or money! I also went to work and left my kitchen shoes and phone at home…I was just a bit off and I felt terrible about it. I was stronger than this. I need to pull myself together.

Martini and her sister Latte on one of our daily outings. (May 2015)

Martini and her sister Latte on one of our daily outings. (May 2015)

After a week of forgetfulness, I needed to step up my game. I owed it to Brian and to Latte. So I walked over to the produce stand after work and picked up a few things, and then headed over to one of the fish counters. I purchased some mussels and headed home. I was prepared to make a tradition Belgian Moules Frites. It is something I know Brian loves, easy to cook up, and warming to the heart – just what we needed. So Brian came home and was amazed to see the mussels. When he saw the fries come out of the oven he grinned. When all was done (the dish of mussels took a total of 15 minutes) we sat and dinned. We told stories of Martini. The whole evening made me smile. It may have not been the greatest circumstances that lead to this meal, but the meal was great. I know Martini would have approved! For those who may ask, Latte is doing well. (She watched me patiently as I cooked this meal.)

Moules Frites

Moules Frites

Moules Frites (serves 4)

**NOTE: This dish Is traditionally served with a mayo of sorts for dipping, or to add to your broth. We personally like to make a garlicy one. One clove of garlic, minced and whisked with 1/4 cup of mayo and the juice of half a lemon. 

2 pounds of Mussels, cleaned and de-bearded

1 cup of celery, thinly sliced

1 cup onion, chopped small

2 tbsp of butter, unsalted

1 tbsp of herbs d’ Provence

3/4 cup dry white wine

2 – 3 russet potatoes (depending on size)

olive oil (about 1/4 cup)

Sea Salt to taste

First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Wash our potatoes well, and dry them. Carefully slice your potatoes in about 1/4 – 1/2 inch by 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick sticks. The length of the sticks can vary depending on the size of your potatoes. After all of your potatoes are sliced, place them in a bowl and toss them in the olive oil. Have one to two sheet pans lined with parchment paper. place the potatoes sparingly apart. Sprinkle them with sea salt and place them in the oven. Bake them about 20 minutes before stirring them and placing them back in the oven to crisp up – about 15 – 20 minutes more (depending on your oven).

Next, place a large sauté pan (that has a tight fitting lid) over medium heat and melt the butter. Once the butter is melted add your celery and onion and salute about 5 minutes. You are looking for the onion to start to become translucent, and then add the herbs d’ Provence. Stir it all together, and once the herbs become aromatic.

Then, add the mussels to the pan. Stir it well to coat them, and then pour the wine over, place the lid over it all, and let it come to a simmer about 10 minutes. Giving the pan a little shake a couple of times. After ten minutes, remove the lid and check to be sure all the mussels are wide open. Discard any that have remained closed. remove from the heat, and place in a serving bowl.

Finally, remove the potatoes from the oven (aka Frites). Be sure they are crispy and cooked though. Re-season with sea salt if necessary. Serve with your mussels and enjoy.

 

Cream Braised Cabbage – oh so good!

Quite some time ago I picked up the book “A Homemade Life” by Molly Wizenberg. It is a great quick read that is witty, descriptive, and has a casual approach to her life and recipes. I throughly enjoyed it and have given a bunch of the recipes in it a try and we’ve not had a complaint with them yet.

The other day I picked up the book and thumbed through it to find her recipe on Banana Bread (my husband and I love it), when I happened to catch a glimpse of one of the other recipes in there for Cream Braised Cabbage. I remembered reading and loving the sound of it, but alas, there is only so much time and way too many recipes! Although, as luck should have it there was a small head of cabbage in my refrigerator! Well, well, well – it was going to be a fun filled night of braising cabbage. Yes, I know…there are some things that do not sound exciting to most, but to me this is thrilling.

Cabbage, crowded in the pan and ready to be seared.

Cabbage, crowded in the pan and ready to be seared. (My cabbage was a bit large and I could only fit 7 wedges into my pan!)

Why? You see the days have started to really feel like fall around here. The air is cool and breezy. Days are growing shorter, and that funny thing called rain has been showing up. It is the perfect timing for a braised dish. One that simmers away at a slow pace making what you are cooking tender to a fork, velvety to your tongue, and rich on your pallet in a way that other cooking technique could ever do. Braising anything warms my kitchen and my soul. Yes! Cream Braised Cabbage you are perfect.

Seared and braising away with the cream.

Seared and braising away with the cream.

Now I know some might look at the cooking time and say this is not a mid week dinner, but think again. Besides the the turning of the cabbage while it sears, and again while it braises, it gives you free hands to do what you like. Just an occasion check on the cabbage as needed. In the mean time I steamed some veggies to serve along side, folded laundry, made a salad and set the table. Wala! Dinner was ready. As I said the cabbage is fork tender and the cream makes it luscious. I paired it with some steamed carrots and boiled, little red potatoes sprinkled with a bit of thyme. (But I think this would pair extremely well with some seared pork chops or roasted chicken too.) It was just what a fall evening of lightly drizzling rain called for. I have said it before and I will say it again…this recipe is a must try. It will make you swoon over its tender braising perfection.

Tender and sweet braised cabbage. Plated with veggies on the side.

Tender and sweet braised cabbage. Plated with veggies on the side.

Cream Braise Green Cabbage (serves 4-6)

From the book: “A Homemade Life” 

1 small head of green cabbage (about 1 1/2 lbs)

3 tbsp (1 1/2 oz) of unsalted butter

1/4 tsp salt, plus more to taste

2/3 cup of heavy cream

1 tbsp of fresh lemon juice

First, pull away any outer leaves of your cabbage. trim the root end and and wash well to remove any dirt. Cut the cabbage into quarters, and then cut each quarter in half lengthwise, keeping a bit of the core with each wedge you cut. Try to keep them in equal sizes.

Next, place a large 12 inch skillet over medium high heat to melt the butter. Add the cabbage wedges, arranging them in a single crowded layer with one cut side down against the skillet. Do not disturb the cabbage and keep them this way for about 5 minutes until the down side is well seared and brown. (The browning is the caramelization of the vegetable and gives it a lightly sweet flavor.)

Then, using a a pair of thongs gently turn your wedges to the other cut side to sear. When that side sears like the other you may sprinkle the 1/4 tsp of salt over the wedges, and then add the cream to the pan. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and reduce the heat to low. You are looking for the liquid to stay at a slow and gentle simmer. Let it cook for 20 minutes, remove the lid and turn the wedges with tongs and repeat again for another 20 minutes with the lid on. The cabbage will be tender and can easily be pierced with a sharp knife. Add the lemon juice and shake the pan so that it evenly distributes.

Finally, let the pan simmer a few minutes to let the liquid in the pan thicken a bit. The cream should be able to coat the cabbage in a loose glaze like way. Serve immediately with additional salt for others to add.

NYT Creamy Mac and Cheese

Last year, while trolling the internet I came across a recipe from The New York Times for Mac and Cheese. It claimed that it was the creamiest and cheesiest Mac and Cheese out there. At first I was shocked that I was only discovering the recipe right then and there. You see the NYT published the recipe years prior. I quickly read through the recipe and thought it was a lot of cheese (but who doesn’t like cheese???). Reading further I was even more interested because you bake the whole dish…no prior pasta cooking needed. I have always wanted to give one of these one pot pasta dishes a try. That was it, I was on a mission to make it.

So on a cool day last year I through the ingredients together and in the oven it went. (Uncooked pasta and all.) After it was done baking I pulled it out of the oven to cool. I was mesmerized by the way bubbled and stared at it’s steam escaping as it rested on my stove top. I found it hard to resist, because I desperately wanted to dive a fork in at that moment. I prevailed I used my will power and held out until it had cooled.

Mac and Cheese cooling out of the oven .

Mac and Cheese cooling out of the oven .

The result – it was fabulous! It was tender, cheesy, creamy, deeply flavorful, and the top of it created this fanatic cheesy crust giving it the right amount of texture. I have told so many others about this recipe and the ones who have tried it out report back on how great they think it is as well. I personally like to pair this with a simple green salad or some steamed veggies. You do not want to pair it with anything too boldly flavored given the richness of this cheesy dish. That aside, I have made this twice this past month. The left overs have been just as good! This is quite possibly my go to Mac and Cheese recipe from now on!

Cooled and ready to eat! Oh so good!!!

Cooled and ready to eat! Oh so good!!!

Creamy Mac and Cheese (Serves 6)

*As published in The New York Times

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup cottage cheese (not low fat)

2 cups milk (not skim)

1 teaspoon dry mustard

Pinch cayenne

Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated

½ pound elbow pasta, uncooked (I have had success with whole wheat pasta as well)

 

First, heat oven to 375 degrees and position an oven rack in upper third of oven. Use

one tablespoon butter to butter a 9-inch round or square baking pan. (I tend to use a

ceramic 9 inch pie dish)

Next, in a blender, purée cottage cheese, milk, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg and salt and

pepper together. Reserve ¼ cup grated cheese for topping. In a large bowl, combine

remaining grated cheese, milk mixture and uncooked pasta. Pour into prepared pan,

cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes.

Then, uncover pan, stir gently, sprinkle with reserved cheese and dot with remaining

tablespoon butter. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes more, until browned.

Finally, remove from the oven and let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Bruleed Nectarines

I know it has been a while since my last post. Life again has been busy and taken me in several different directions…all not in the way of this blog unfortunately.

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Summer is slowly coming to a close. Out of the corner of my eye, on my walk home from work; I spotted an orange leaf on the ground! Yes I know the time is near, but I will take full advantage of the warm sunny days that remain. Basking in some rays and enjoying the fresh air are huge treats. I know in a couple months when us Pacific North Westerners are faced with mist and grey days we will be missing the sun. Although I love days like that, it makes me appreciate the sunshine and breezy days of summer.

The little prep needed to make these!

The little prep needed to make these!

Holding on to late summer has made me rush to the markets to be sure I enjoy every last bit of what remains. Late berries, stone fruits, corn, summer squash…I have been cooking and we have been enjoying it all. With all of this going on, I have been experimenting with different ways to enjoy it all. Of all the possible recipes – Bruleed Nectarines has been most enjoyable and quite possibly could not be simpler! If you have ripe nectarines, sugar, and a broiler you are good to go! I could not think of anything that intensifies the flavor of these summer fruits and keeps their beautiful texture. As they warm up in the broiler, the sugar caramelizes, and the juicy interior of the fruit begins to ooze as you scoop into it. I am telling you, this is so good and a show stopper! If the nectarines are still looking perfect I might have to make this again and invite some friends over to enjoy it with us…Although, I could easily devour it all myself!

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Bruleed Nectarines (1/2 – 1 whole nectarine per person)

**Note: This recipe works well with peaches too, but I personally like to peel the peaches first as the skin is a lot tougher than that of a nectarine.

Nectarines, halved and pitted

sugar (I personally like turbinado but white sugar works well too)

First, preheat your broiler on high. I arrange my nectarines in either individual baking dishes they fit into, or I lay them on a gratin type baking dish.

Next, coat the cut portion of your fruit with an even layer of your sugar. be sure you get sugar in the crevice of the pit, but do not fill it up with the sugar. Place the your coated nectarines under the broiler keeping an eye on them. I find with ripe fruit in my oven it takes about 5 minutes. But keep and eye on it. You are looking for the sugar and the edges of the fruit to caramelize and be somewhat golden across the top of your fruit.

Finally, remove from the oven and serve. Be careful as the dishes you use will be very hot, but it best to eat and enjoy these right away. If you let them sit a while the sugar that you caramelized will start to disintegrate!

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